Elynor Flegel

Elynor Flegel

Elynor Flegel, January 18, 2021

If you live in the St. Louis area, you have almost certainly spent time in Forest Park.  And you have likely walked past, picnicked, or had your wedding or graduation picture taken at Flegel Falls.  This is the story of the woman after whom the falls are named and who, along with her husband, is responsible for its restoration.

Elynor Keyser Flegel came of age in the early 1960’s.  She impeccably embodied the era – possessing the beauty and style of Betty Draper along with the intelligence and worldview of Betty Friedan.  From there, she evolved with every decade, blazing trails with a particular emphasis on education, social advocacy and philanthropic financial development.  

After a long and protracted illness, we have lost our beloved Elynor – wife, mother, friend, family matriarch, and community leader.  Daughter to late Allen B. and late Betty (Kunin) Keyser, wife of S. Leslie Flegel, mother to Jason (Carole) Flegel, Mark Flegel and Lauren (Darryl) Sagel, grandmother to Dylan and Brooke Flegel, Graham and Alexa Sagel, sister to Craig (Mimi) Keyser and late Randy Keyser, sister-in-law to late Gloria (late Allan) Molasky, aunt to late Mark Molasky, Marti (Barry) Simon, Adam (Kathy) Keyser and Elise (Connor) Sloan.  

Elynor Meryl Keyser was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in September, 1941.  As a child, she adored dancing, skipped two grades and performed in the chorus of two MUNY productions.  Her husband, Leslie, met her just weeks after returning to St. Louis following the loss of his mother.  Their attraction was immediate, they were married just over a year later in 1961, and they remained so for nearly 60 years.  Nothing was more important to Elynor than her family; however, her family extended beyond mere lineage.  She was wholly her own person – a force of nature with her own opinions, professions, and accomplishments.

Elynor earned her first of two degrees – a B.S. from Washington University, in conjunction with the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, MO in 1962.  Her calling was to help others, and so she began her professional career working with hearing impaired children.  Her objective was to teach them to read, write, and converse with the outside world.  Self-reliance and personal accountability were her guiding principles.  The application of this tenet to teach these children how to engage with the world on equal footing was decades ahead of its time and served as a recurring theme throughout her life.

Elynor had the unique ability to interact with people in accordance with their own needs, abilities, and personality, and this was evident in how she expressed her love for her family.  She could be emotionally empathetic, collegial, or even bluntly pragmatic as needed.  Once, when her son – then in junior high school – came to her for guidance regarding a particularly nasty bully, she offered to help him practice his punching skills by holding up a pillow – in preparation for the next day.  Prior to holding up the pillow she briefly paused to ask “about how high is his nose?”  She could also – occasionally – be funny.

In 1982 Elynor obtained her M.S. in Human Resources Management from Washington University. During the 1980’s and 1990’s Elynor became a pioneering advocate for the mentally ill after her brother Randy became afflicted with schizophrenia – a then poorly understood and highly stigmatized condition.  Again, she became an outspoken advocate for those whom the world had written off.  She was the President of Places for People, a groundbreaking organization specializing in finding independent living accommodations, and appropriate forms of employment, for those fighting mental illness.  This changed her brother’s life and he, in turn, worked with the organization, himself changing the lives of hundreds of families within the St. Louis area.

During this same period Elynor played an important role in the evolution of Webster University – serving as Vice President of Advancement, where she raised the funds to build the Sverdrup Complex and created the Daniel Webster Society.  She also engaged in several philanthropic projects and initiatives.  They include serving on the board of several organizations; the David Lawrence Center, NAMI St. Louis (President), Forest Park Forever, St. Louis Crisis Nursery, Naples Botanical Gardens, the Jewish Community Center, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, National Council of Jewish Women (Vice President), Jewish Book Festival (Founder), and Victim’s Service Council.  In 2011, Elynor and Leslie founded the Program for Entrepreneurship at the University of Missouri’s Business School.

In her later years Elynor cherished her time in Naples, Florida with her family.  She also enjoyed traveling with Leslie and attending Broadway shows.  An excellent cook, she continued her iconic tradition of Friday Night dinners and homemade Gefilte Fish (carried over from her Mother), and frequently hosted functions and dinners for friends and family with Leslie in their Naples home.  In 2013 Elynor contracted a rare form of Parkinson’s Disease which progressively and profoundly affected her mobility and ability to communicate.  Despite this devastating condition, she never lost her sense of self nor her love for her friends and family, particularly her grandchildren, who continued to visit with and spend time with her through the remainder of her remarkable life. 

So the next time you’re in Forest Park…

A private graveside will be held on Thursday, January 21 at 1 PM. The service will be available via Live Stream for all that would like to participate. Please visit bergermemorialchapel.com for Live Stream details. An in-person gathering will be scheduled for a later date. Memorial contributions preferred to Places for People or Forest Park Forever. BERGER MEMORIAL SERVICE